x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

Travelling with Kids: let them spread their wings

If your child is travelling alone, the journey becomes a little less stressful if there's an airport lounge dedicated to unaccompanied minors.

This summer, our 10-year-old wants to make a solo trip to Mumbai to spend a couple of weeks with my parents. His request immediately brought back memories of myself as a 12-year-old at Muscat International Airport, trying not to be tearful while my parents handed me over to a Gulf Air staff member as I set off alone for a holiday with my cousins in India.

Same destination, similar anxiety pangs, only this time I'm a parent and I'm worried that Calvin, who tends to live in his head, will wander off and the plane will leave without him.

But my mother, who is unashamedly proud of her grandson, thinks otherwise.

"Calvin's very intelligent and he's a seasoned traveller," she said. "He knows his way around the airports in Abu Dhabi and Mumbai. It's most unlikely that he's going to get lost or miss the flight. You've got to trust him. "

Cue another flashback: my parents gone, the attendant stepped forward and addressed me kindly: "Don't worry, you'll be fine." Then she pinned the biggest, ugliest badge I'd ever set eyes on to the front of my shirt. "This way, you won't get lost," she said.

The badge had the letters "UM" in bold black type on a fluorescent orange background. Unaccompanied Minor coming through, I remember thinking, my cheeks burning as I walked through the airport. But despite the trauma of having to wear that horrible accessory, I ended up having a lovely holiday.

My mother probably is right. Calvin definitely is better travelled than I was at his age. So I swallowed my doubts and began to do some research.

I checked out the Etihad Airways website and discovered that the airline's UM service is faultless: for the price of an adult fare (child discounts don't apply to kids travelling alone), Calvin will be placed in the care of the ground staff, who'll shepherd him through immigration and make sure he boards the flight, which, as always, he's looking forward to (Etihad offers a kids' menu but I'm not going to request a meal if it's the burger-and-chips kind). On landing, he'll be escorted through passport control and helped with his baggage, before being handed over to his waiting grandparents, but only after an ID check.

But the best thing is, the airline also offers Unaccompanied Minors a special transit lounge at Abu Dhabi airport (Terminal 3). It's free of charge and comes with comfortable chairs, toys, books and activity packs - a good way to get anxious children to relax before the journey (I'm hoping they don't hand out sugary treats).

Now, the only thing left to do is buy Calvin's ticket. And find out if hideous badges are still pinned on to children travelling alone.

ciyer@thenational.ae